By Edmond TASSE, SX
In the Church tradition, mission could properly be defined by two words: evangelization and development, as pointed out by the missionary pope Paul VI (Paul VI, Mission Sunday message 1970). By evangelization, it is meant the strictly religious activity, aimed at the preaching of God’s Kingdom through the action of the Holy Spirit. Here, we can include activities such as explicit proclamation (kerygma), catechumenate, formation and animation of basic ecclesial communities, interreligious dialogue, pastoral care, etc.
By development it is meant the integral human promotion. In his encyclical Populorum Progressio, Paul VI insisted that one of the duties of missionaries is to determinedly foster the growth of economic, cultural, social and spiritual well-being among the peoples where they are working. This integral development passes through activities such as corporal works of mercy, commitment in educational and healthy sphere, social action, struggle for justice and peace, etc. My point in this article will be to emphasize that all those praise-worthy activities can leave an impact for the Kingdom if and only if missionaries are really inspired by God.
First of all, due to the growing of secularism, pluralism and relativism in today’s world, the Church, more than ever, needs men and women who can speak humbly and sincerely of God to hearts that are hungering for Him. In others words, we need people who have met God, to whom he is a living reality. Which is to say that mission needs men and women of prayer as it needs no one else.
In fact, involvement for the Kingdom absolutely demands prayer because mission, as distinguished from mere professional activities is an “unbreakable partnership between God and man.” Though God can convert a heart without the aid of human beings (see conversion of saint Paul Act 9), human beings can never convert a single person without the aid of God: “No one can come to me unless the Farther who sent me draws him to me” ( Jn6:44). A person might draw another to himself/herself by his/her human gifts (cleverness, eloquence, beauty, wealth, etc.) but he or she can never draw one to the Lord by those talents.
Furthermore, because of the complexity of our post-modern world, today’s missionaries should bring to their works a high level of professionalism based on a rigorous philosophical, scriptural and theological knowledge alongside with a substantial understanding of human sciences. However, those human wisdoms of themselves are of no benefit for the Kingdom unless they are accompanied by the brilliance of the “Son” shining in their hearts. Thus, only the person sensitive to the Holy Spirit can bring this type of light into the world. So, who is that person sensitive and docile to the Holy Spirit if it is not the person of prayer? The deeper the prayer, the brighter the light.
To go on better, Carlo Caretto, great mystic of our time, believes that “a missionary can pass on the fruits of his/her contemplation, not his/her wisdom, or worse still, his culture.” For him, only when we contemplate the face of God, and are carried beyond ourselves in so doing, can we effectively say to our neighbor: “come and see, and understand for yourself how sublime God is (In Search of the beloved, P.134). Again, the conclusion is the same: fruitful mission demands prayerfulness.
To conclude, I believe that missionaries, as busy as they can be, need much more than their native and acquired gifts to properly accomplish their mission. They need a profound communion with the Lord. As mystics hold, it is contemplation of beauty, after all, that renders a person beautiful. Hence, only one who perseveringly gazes upon Jesus, The Perfect Missionary of the Father, is transformed by him and therefore become an authentic missionary.